Developer William Adair was raised in Fayette County within 200 yards of the Wolf River.
"We ate fish out of the Wolf for the first 12 years of my life, and I hunted up and down the river for many years," Adair said. "That area has a lot of sentimental value for me."
That sentimental value is one of the reasons Adair agreed to sell Norfolk Southern 500 acres of his land in Rossville for a massive new facility. Earlier this year, the rail company planned to build an intermodal facility — where trucks and trains drop off and pick up cargo — in an area located just east of Rossville and a quarter-mile from the banks of the Wolf.
Wolf River supporters worried that the location was too near the river and could cause contamination of both the Wolf and the Memphis Sands aquifer, where the city gets its drinking water.
"The original site would have run right up next to the river, and there was no margin for error if there were spills or contamination from oil and chemicals," said Steve Fleegal, chief executive officer for the Wolf River Conservancy. "The wetlands from the river ran right up next to the [original proposed location]."
Adair's property is located farther south of the river, and Norfolk Southern spokesperson Susan Terpay has confirmed that the company has chosen Adair's land instead of the proposed location.
"As a result of meetings with residents opposed to the initial site, we expanded our search," Terpay said in an e-mail.
The new intermodal yard will be part of Norfolk Southern's Crescent Corridor, a 2,500-mile rail network that will provide an alternative to highway transportation for domestic motor freight carriers between the Northeast and the South.
Adair, a former insurance mogul who sold his Direct General Insurance Co. for more than $600 million a few years ago, purchased more than 3,000 acres of farmland in Fayette County in 2007. Though Norfolk Southern will use some of that land for its operations, Adair also plans to build Piperton Hills, a large residential-commercial development, on the rest of the property.
"The way we've got the [intermodal yard] planned, we should be able to control any sound and lighting issues that we think we might have," Adair said. "We think we've done a great job preserving the rest of our development out here."
Besides protecting the Wolf, the new location should also alleviate some traffic concerns that residents of Rossville expressed with the initial site. Norfolk Southern is predicting the facility will draw about 2,000 trucks a day, or about 200 trucks per hour during a 10-hour day. At the old location, trucks would have had to travel down a two-lane highway. The new plan means trucks will drive down Highway 72, which will eventually be widened to four lanes.
"As it's proposed now, I think vehicle traffic will be much more acceptable than it would have been in the former location," said Buck Clark, president of the South Fayette Alliance, a group formed to protest the original proposed location.
Though he believes the new site is an improvement over the one east of Rossville, Clark says he'd rather Norfolk Southern stay out of Fayette County.
"It would be my preference ... that the facility not locate in Fayette County," Clark said. "But the proposed location is the least objectionable of the locations that have been considered."